The names at the press tables at Madison Square Garden included some of New York’s most famous journalists, including Charles Foster Kane and J.J. Hunsecker.
Kane and Hunsecker were fictional, the former the newspaper mogul in the 1941 movie “Citizen Kane,” the latter a newspaper columnist in the 1957 film “Sweet Smell of Success.”
Dennis D’Agostino reserved a workspace for both men at New York Knicks games. Some of New York’s most seasoned journalists walked past the place cards and missed the joke.
“I’ll never forget watching writers looking down and seeing Charles Foster Kane and moving on, as if they expected Charles Foster Kane to show up,” said D’Agostino’s wife, Times columnist Helene Elliott.
In the two largest media markets in North America, where high-profile journalistic competitors often engage in a clash of egos, D’Agostino happily made a life in the shadows, helping other people do their jobs and having fun along the way.
“I don’t believe he ever had a bad day,” Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner said. “He was relentlessly nice, and upbeat.
“If he had an ego, I don’t believe I ever saw it.”
D’Agostino worked for the Associated Press before moving to the the public relations departments of the Knicks and New York Mets before he married Elliott and moved to California — for her — in 1999. He quickly became a fixture at NBA and Major League Baseball games in the Southland, serving as statistician for national and local broadcasts and as an official scorer for MLB.
He died Saturday, after suffering an apparent heart attack. He was 66.
In the days that followed, his impact on the sports world — no secret in the press box — was shared with fans across America.
The Mets honored him on their television broadcast, with announcer and former pitcher Ron Darling in tears, club executive Jay Horwitz said.
Horwitz and D’Agostino were publicists for the Mets’ World Series championship team in 1986. Four decades later, Horwitz said, he got calls and text messages from many of the players on that team — including Darling, Keith Hernandez and Mookie Wilson — mourning the passing of D’Agostino.
“He was a mensch,” Horwitz said.
No more so, perhaps, than when he and Elliott were getting to know one another, and he could recite what she said was “half the baseball record book and all of ‘The Honeymooners’ episodes.”
Said Elliott: “In those years, not everybody was decent to female sportswriters. He was somebody who was always so nice and welcoming. You could just feel comfortable. You didn’t have to feel afraid.”
Elliott said she has found comfort in the scores of emails and calls from old colleagues, from team interns and famous broadcasters, all reaching out to share what a positive impact D’Agostino had made upon them.
“He never thought he meant anything to anyone,” Elliott said, “but he was so wrong about that.”
In addition to Elliott, D’Agostino is survived by his mother, sister and two nieces. Services are pending.